Time Keeps Ticking Away In This Mesmerising Artwork At Tate Modern

Christian Marclay: The Clock, Tate modern ★★★★★

Tabish Khan
By Tabish Khan Last edited 65 months ago

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Time Keeps Ticking Away In This Mesmerising Artwork At Tate Modern Christian Marclay: The Clock, Tate modern 5
Hunker down in the comfy sofas for a long watch. Photographer: White Cube (Ben Westoby)

Christopher Walken recounts the story of how he concealed a watch up his backside in Pulp Fiction, and Doc Emmett Brown and Marty McFly look at the clock waiting for lightning to strike.

These two iconic film scenes are both about time and feature timepieces. If you’ve ever wondered how often time features in a movie, it’s a lot. So much so that artist Christian Marclay used tons of footage to create a film that runs for 24 hours — that’s right, an entire day and it’s showing at Tate Modern.

What’s special about 'The Clock' is the time on screen is the same as the time in real life — i.e. any clock or watch on screen will show the time as 11.35 only when it’s also 11.35 when we’re watching it — yes, it's meta. It’s a meticulously constructed film right down to clocks ticking over to a new minute just as our watches also tick over.

This highly complex work took three months to construct and it’s hard to put in words how mesmerising it is. In between shots of the time there are references to the passage of time whether it’s persons on screen rushing for a train or a funeral marking the end of time, at least it's the end for the person in the coffin.

Time keeps on ticking. Photograph: White Cube

By disconnecting each scene from the rest of the film it makes it even more intriguing. We recognise a young Idris Elba and Julia Roberts abed in separate scenes but what films are they in? A clock ticks towards noon for a shootout to begin – Russell Crowe, Sharon Stone and Leonardo DiCaprio all look out for it to tick over but once it does we cut away and never see the ensuing gunfight. Time is stripped of its context.

For the hardcore among you, Tate Modern opens for 24 hours during special screenings for those bold enough to try and sit through the entire thing. It's a feat of endurance that's almost a work of art in of itself. Thankfully the gallery is filled with comfy sofas so it's easy to hunker down for a long session.

Digital clocks too, as well as references to time feature. Image courtesy White Cube, London and Paula Cooper, New York

On a conceptual level The Clock is the perfect work right now, given we Londoners are always rushing around, always late for something and never able to achieve what we want in a day. Time is now our most valuable commodity and yet we never quite manage to lose ourselves in it, this writer is constantly failing to take some time to relax. As Einstein said:

Time is relative; its only worth depends upon what we do as it is passing

This film invites you to get lost in time while reminding us how valuable it is. We find ourselves ironically losing track of time and wondering what time it is. We glance at our watch before realising foolishly that the time is on the screen in front of us.

It's a stunning film that everyone should put aside some time to experience. Ok, we're done with time now — time's up.

Christian Marclay: The Clock is on at Tate Modern from 14 September to 20 January. Entrance is free.

Last Updated 30 September 2018